Dzogchen Seminar Offers Essential Teachings in Vershire
"Pema Osel" is the shorthand way we fondly refer to Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling without too much embarrassment over the pronunciation, when locals speak of the East Coast study and practice center of Mangala Shri Bhuti in America. You'd be unlikely to happen upon it unless you have a reason to meander onto Eastman Cross, the smallest connecting road between South Vershire and Vershire Center. It's really not on the way to anywhere, which, I suppose, makes it a great place for a retreat center. The winding dirt lane borders a gorgeous brook that just about consumed the narrow road during the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene. Suddenly, the trees part overhead and a drape of prayer flags emerges on the right, bowing over the gravel drive leading up to a cheerful yellow building where this community of Tibetan Buddhists gathers in a small group every Sunday morning and by the dozens or hundreds several times a year for special programs.
This weekend is one of those times. The Dzogchen Seminar, August 27-28, includes teachings with Q & A by Mangala Shri Bhuti founder Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, meditation and senior student-led group discussion along with a locally prepared vegetarian lunch each day. Mangala Shri Bhuti members can also elect to video stream the program as an alternative to traveling to the site.
The Dzogchen Seminar Facebook page describes the purpose of the event this way. "Dzogchen, or great perfection, is the ultimate view of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Dzogchen is a nondual practice that focuses on connecting to our own innately enlightened mind, just as it is. The essence of these simple instructions is to recognize the nature of our mind, and then 'let it be.'" Ahhh.
Matthew Mackay, a student of Rinpoche's, has traveled south of the Canadian border for the occasion. He describes this weekend's program as "the highest teachings" of Nyingma, the oldest of the four main schools of Buddhist philosophy. These "simplest and most profound, most essential" teachings on how to meditate and to realize one's enlightened nature are usually reserved for transmitting to students during retreats, but are now offered in these annual programs because of the genuine desire of so many students to engage deeply with this tradition.
There is a "budding Buddhist community in the area," according to Matthew, which supplies some of the weekend's attendees who also come from Boston, New York and other US locations, Montreal, and even overseas. Anyone is welcome, he says, any tradition or practice can be enhanced by these teachings, and whoever feels called to be there will receive some benefit from attending. Registration is still open online.Kongtrul Rinpoche also teaches The Modern Day Boddhisatva Seminar at Pema Osel, one of six such centers around the world from Colorado to Brazil, India and Japan. He is also the author of the recently published The Intelligent Heart: A Guide to the Compassionate Life, and other books, as well as an accomplished artist of abstract painting. Other teachers at Pema Osel include Kongtrul Rinpoche's wife, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel and their son, Dungse Jampal Norbu. In addition, Pema Chodron is a widely-known and well-loved author, speaker and teacher who visits Pema Osel and leads programs occasionally. This could be the reason her titles like When Things Fall Apart and Smile at Fear keep turning up at the semi-annual Vershire Community Library book sales. Read it and pass it on...
Members of Mangala Shri Bhuti focus on study, practice and service, with emphasis on retreat, where the deepest teachings are gained. From the MSB website:
"If there were a mission statement for MSB, it would be to support students to come into contact with their own enlightened nature, their natural inheritance as human beings.
'We sentient beings are all identical in continually moving toward joy and away from pain. Every one of us has the potential to attain lasting happiness and freedom from suffering. I find this universal sensitivity to be very beautiful and moving. But in order for us to realize our potential -- to have our intentions and actions meet -- we also need great wisdom. When we recognize this, we can then really appreciate the Buddha as the guide, the Dharma as the path, and the Sangha as our companions on the path.'
-- Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche"The next special event at Pema Osel will be Compassion in the Digital Age, offered by Dungse Jampal Norbu, October 8-9.
While these programs may not exactly double the population of Vershire, the weekends do provide an influx of visitors, many of whom find lodgings at the Stagecoach Stop Hostel as well as local Air B & B homestays and other hospitality services enumerated in Pema Osel's Visitors Guide. Just being in Vershire may feel like a retreat to some, as cell phone is unavailable for most plans. Visitors and neighbors alike can virtually step into another world, where East meets West, the warm and welcoming Sunday morning meditations are led by the few residents of the center wearing jeans and padding around in stocking feet, yet some of the world's greatest spiritual leaders and teachers regularly grace our back roads and deep woods. Students, teachers and visitors to Pema Osel Do Ngok Choling bring a spirit of loving-kindness and compassion to Vershire. Can you see it and feel it? Could Vershire be the kindest town in Vermont? I'd love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments below.
All photos in this article are gratefully shared from the Mangala Shri Bhuti website.
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